Monday, May 18, 2015

American Horror Story: Freak Show

I don't really watch TV anymore... The only programming I ever watched anyway was cable news, documentaries, & Comedy Central shows. Now, I don't even bother with TV news, and I only watch content from Comedy Central occasionally. My girlfriend & I both try to find more constructive uses of our time, so neither of us invest ourselves in full seasons of any TV series.

However, we decided to make an exception & watch "American Horror Story: Freak Show", because it appealed to our appreciation for the bizarre and weird. After months of intermittently watching an episode here & there, we finally watched the series finale last night. I enjoyed the series and think it's worth seeing, for all its grotesque craziness.

When I first started watching AHS: Freak Show, I immediately recognized the strong influence of the 1932 cult classic film, Tod Browning's "Freaks". It became one of my favorite movies in high school, after I bought a VHS tape from a video store that I worked at as a teenager. "Freaks" shocked audiences of the day with its casting of real circus freaks and sideshow acts, leading to it being banned from theaters.

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As a kid who liked anything strange & out of the ordinary, "Freaks" was right up my alley. It was disturbing, yet thought-provoking and profound. It also gave deep insight into human nature and questioned the nature of our perception of "normal".

Tod Browning & the cast of "Freaks" (1932)

"AHS: Freak Show" is a modern day incarnation of the black & white film, in the form of a TV series. Most of the characters are direct adaptations of the real-life freaks that were cast in the original classic movie.

Many of the themes in the show are very similar to the movie. The feeling of rejection & being an outcast from society plays heavily in the show. A solution to this sense of rejection is the strength that can be found by "finding the others," as Terence McKenna used to say. By sticking together with other freaks, they could become a surrogate family for one another. This provides protection for one another through a communal existence, independent from the rest of society.

Another theme that I love in both the show & movie is the idea that the truly twisted and monstrous characters are actually the "normal" people, who are narcissists, sociopaths, and outright killers. The freaks just want to perform and live together in their traveling carnival, but the schemes of those outside their community constantly threaten their existence.

The owner of the freak show, Elsa Mars

The owner of the freak show is Elsa Mars (played by Jessica Lange), a German woman with dreams of becoming famous and moving to Hollywood. She loves her "monsters" as she calls them, but ultimately her narcissism is greater than her concern for the freaks. She has horrific demons from her past that come out as the series progresses, and this throws into doubt whether or not she can be considered a freak herself.

The utterly crazy Dandy Mott
One of my favorite non-freak characters is a rich, spoiled psychopathic man-child named Dandy Mott. He is a person that you love to hate, because he is such an evil & arrogant bastard. However, his craziness & complete disconnect from normal human behavior can be entertaining.

 Twisty the Clown

'The creepiest and most horrifying character was the Killer Clown who was featured prominently in the first several episodes. I personally find clowns to be have a slightly disconcerting quality anyway, but this clown was just plain terrifying. Unfortunately, his character didn't last throughout most of the series.

The leading "freak" characters of AHS: Freak Show

There are a lot of good characters in the show, including- Sarah Paulson as the 2-headed girl Dot & Bette, Kathy Bates as a bearded woman, and Neil Patrick Harris as the shell-shocked traveling salesman with his creepy murderous doll that speaks only to him.

Although the plot led to some shocking surprises and mind-bending circumstances, the acting and extraordinary characters are the show's strongest element.

I would recommend "American Horror Story: Freak Show" to anyone with an interest in the macabre, grotesque, or downright insane aspects of humanity. It makes you consider whether we are ALL freakish on some level.

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